Guitarist Todd Rundgren formed The Nazz with bassist Carson Van Osten in 1967 after they had quit blues purists Woody’s Truck Stop.
Recruiting drummer Thom Mooney and vocalist/keyboardist Stewkey (nee Robert Antoni), Rundgren and Van Osten named the group after The Yardbirds‘ song The Nazz Are Blue and quickly landed an opening spot for The Doors in Philadelphia.
The group moved to New York and were moulded into a semi-teen-pop band. While the rest of America was growing beards and turning on, The Nazz were wearing foppish clothes and inventing power pop, ignoring The Beatles‘ psychedelia in favour of their harmonies and symphonic pretensions.
The group’s self-produced debut single, Hello It’s Me (1968), was pretty but hopelessly lugubrious and it wandered all over the place. Tightening up the song considerably, Rundgren turned the cut into a radio standard in 1973.
The flip, Open My Eyes, however, was stunning. Starting off like The Who‘s I Can’t Explain, then moving through proto-heavy metal riffing, bongo fills, Mitch Ryder organ and hand claps to a weird sheen courtesy of some of the most gratuitous phasing ever recorded, Open My Eyes was the perfect transition record from the 1960s to the 1970s.
It was the best moment on their self-titled debut album (1968) which was mostly produced by John Kurland and was drenched in Anglophilia.
A planned double album called Fungo Bat was scrapped for a variety of reasons, among them Rundgren‘s insistence on singing lead vocals on his newer songs. Nazz Nazz (1969) was released instead, leaving the second half of the proposed LP temporarily in the vaults.
Rundgren left the group before it was released, and taking hold of uncontested leadership of the group, lead vocalist Stewkey erased Rundgren’s lead vocals from the shelved tracks, replacing them with his own and releasing the entire project as Nazz III (1970).
Stewkey has publicly stated his distaste for Rundgren’s Laura Nyro infatuation, so it’s a little odd to hear him sing such finely crafted songs as Only One Winner and Some People.
That aside, Nazz III is an impressive effort that, if taken in conjunction, would have resulted in a very good double record.
Robert ‘Stewkey’ Antoni
Carson Van Osten